Iran announced on Sunday that it had enriched uranium to the 20% level, putting it just a few days away from being able to spin up uranium to bomb-grade levels of 90%. The 20% level is critical because it represents about 90% of the effort needed to ramp up enrichment to 90%.
The advanced centrifuges at the Iranian nuclear facility at Fordo had been under development for years, leading to the inescapable conclusion that, while Iran had forsworn developing these advanced machines in the 2015 nuclear deal, it violated the accord by perfecting them.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said uranium enriched to 20% was collected for the first time from advanced IR-6 centrifuges on Saturday. He said Iran had informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog about the development two weeks ago.
Centrifuges are used to spin enriched uranium into higher levels of purity. Tehran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers had called for Fordo to become a research-and-development facility and restricted centrifuges there to non-nuclear uses.
Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, told NPR that the Iranians were never interested in renegotiating the nuclear deal.
The European Union, in its role as coordinator, wanted to try one more effort, at least one more effort, and so they invited both delegations to meet with them in Doha in the hope that the Iranians would show something, some willingness to get to yes. But they seem, at this point, not capable of providing an answer. And so it was a little bit of a – well, more than a little bit of a wasted occasion, I’d say.
It’s wasted because Iran already has enough Uranium-235 enriched to 60% to fuel one bomb. With 166 IR-6 advanced centrifuges — the number Iran says it has at Fordo — spinning 43 kg at 60% up to 90% is a matter of a few days.
Iran has been able to get away with cheating on the 2015 nuclear deal because the Big Powers never called the country out for it — except the United States under Trump. Iran’s bogus “interpretations” of what the treaty actually said allowed it to violate the intent of the deal with impunity. The Europeans wanted the issue of Iranian nukes to go away so they could resume their lucrative commercial relationship with Tehran.
Now Iran is ready for a breakout. The real question is, what will Israel do?
The only thing keeping Iran from going nuclear now is Israel’s probable reaction. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid is calling for international sanctions to be imposed. It’s not likely to happen.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called on the U.N. to re-impose multilateral sanctions on Iran — a bid that was met with stiff opposition when pushed by the Trump administration.
“The response of the international community must be decisive: to return to the U.N. Security Council and activate the sanctions mechanism at full force,” Lapid, who is serving as caretaker leader, told his Cabinet. “Israel, for its part, maintains full freedom to act, diplomatically and operationally, in this fight against Iran’s nuclear program.”
There’s little doubt that Israel will eventually take matters into its own hands. Israel isn’t likely to wait for proof that Iran is building a bomb. Instead, the threat from Iran is so immediate and existential that Israel will take out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure while hoping to avoid a general Middle East war.